On the opening night of their return to British shores, Radiohead delivered a jaw-dropping arena show, cementing their reputation as one of the very finest bands on the planet.
Arena gigs can be a daunting proposition, the MCR Arena has a capacity of 21,000, yet filling a venue of this size is an easy task for a band as popular as Radiohead. The cheapest tickets available for the show were priced at an eye-watering £70 – but having booked them eight months previous to the night of the show the pain had somewhat faded and mutated into a feverish excitement.
The last time Radiohead played UK dates was their appearance at Reading and Leeds festival in 2009. These shows were more heavily centred around the electronic influenced albums the band made after 1997’s OK Computer. Tracks from game-changing album In Rainbows made up the bulk of the set in 2009 and a distinct lack of ‘classics’ was on offer that August weekend. Despite Radiohead’s refusal to ‘play the singles’ their Leeds festival set was the best live show I had ever witnessed so I had high hopes for their Manchester date.
Sadly, a delayed train meant that I missed Caribou’s 45 minute support slot, but with Radiohead playing for over two and a half hours I felt my feet were probably pleased that they had some respite. Opening with ‘Lotus Flower’ the goose bumps began to form and the excitement rose. The sheer sensory spectacle of a Radiohead show cannot be ignored. Huge LED light columns were the backdrop for the band, surrounding the stage was further futuristic lighting similar to that of the In Rainbows tour. The newest addition to the visual show was the inclusion of ten LED screens that would show different camera angles of the musicians. These screens were attached to cables that enabled them to be manoeuvred closer or further away depending on the nature of the song being played.
After a sped-up version of ‘Lotus Flower’ the applause was deafening for the band. Clive Deamer provided brilliant accompaniment on a second drumkit, augmenting Phil Selway’s already unfeasibly intricate abilities with the sticks. ‘Airbag’ was the surprise second song and received one of the best crowd reactions of the night. As is to be expected, the band’s newer material was heavily present in the set list with ‘Bloom’, ‘These Are My Twisted Words’, ‘Feral’, ‘Separator’, ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ and ‘Give Up The Ghost’ all getting played. Despite these songs being more suited to headphones rather than speakers, the band managed to transform them into arena-filling material. The sheer talent on stage was an absolute joy to see and it truly makes you appreciate the genius of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood.
‘Paranoid Android’ closed the first set of songs and I don’t have enough superlatives to describe how utterly perfectly the song was performed. Manchester did not realise how lucky they were as the London dates did not get to hear ‘Paranoid Android’ as ‘Karma Police’ was chosen as the OK Computer song of that night. The band returned for one of three encores playing live show staple ‘You and Whose Army’, a surprising ‘Planet Telex’ and a haunting ‘How To Disappear Completely’.
The second encore left just Thom and Jonny on stage to perform the hypnotic, looping ‘Give Up The Ghost’ that some members of the crowd thought was perfectly acceptable to talk through. The fury vented at those people chatting warmed my heart. After ‘Give Up The Ghost’, the full band returned to play another live show regular – ‘Everything In It’s Right Place’. Despite this not being one of my personal favourite Radiohead songs it is a completely different animal when performed live and was probably one of the highlights of the night with Jonny Greenwood providing distorted AM radio generated backing vocals.
The final encore of the night was reserved for one last big song. The light show reached a new level, the ten screens flickered through shots of the band as the band launched into a frenetic rendition of ‘Idioteque’. That final song performance really hit home at just how much of a special occasion it is to see Radiohead live. The talent, the skill, the spectacle cannot be replicated or experienced in the same way apart from seeing a band of such ability live and in person. As the band left the stage one by one, Idioteque unravelled, the house lights came up and 21,000 people picked their jaws from off the ground and wandered awe-struck into the freezing October night.By Joni Roome